Yesterday (Aug. 29) marked the birthday of theologian Gerhard Lohfink, one of the thinkers whose work has been most formative for us at Englewood Christian Church…
His work also was a major contributor to the theological foundation of my book Slow Church (co-written with John Pattison).
Here is a recent talk that Lohfink gave that has been translated into English and published by the Bruderhof in their Plough magazine…
(If you know German, there is also a video recording of this talk…)
Did the Early Christians Understand Jesus?
Nonviolence, Love of Neighbor, and Imminent Expectation
This is a translation of Gerhard Lohfink’s keynote address on November 21, 2015 at a conference commemorating Eberhard Arnold.
There are statements so bewildering that they are quoted again and again. Among these is a remark, now a century old, by the French biblical scholar Alfred Loisy: “Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God – and what came was the church.” I’ll leave to the side the question of what Loisy himself meant by this sentence. Rather, I’ll focus on how it’s understood by those who gleefully quote it. Usually, they understand it as bitterly ironic.
Here, on the one side, is the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed: the immense, all-comprehensive, yet incomprehensible transformation of the world under God’s reign – and there, on the other side, is the church that came after Easter: a finite body with all the limitations of any other social structure. Clearly, then, there’s a gaping chasm between Jesus’ proclamation and the post-Easter reality! Here the glory of the kingdom of God; there the bitter paltriness of the actual existing church.
I’ll say immediately what merit I find in this approach: None. None at all. For it rends open a cleft between the will of Jesus and the reality of the church in a way that does injustice to both Jesus and the church. How so?
First of all, because it was Jesus himself who characterized the onset of the kingdom as small and utterly inconspicuous. Think of his images of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30–32), of the yeast (Matt. 13:33), of the endangered seed (Mark 4:1–9), or of the seed that grows in secret (Mark 4:26–29).